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what is a covid compliance officer hero
Erika DeSimone

You’ve clapped for your essential workers. You’ve supported brands pledged to coronavirus relief. And you’re queued up to get your vaccine. And while everyone's keeping an eye on the economic effects of the pandemic, especially concerning women leaving the workforce, we were pleased to discover a new job created by the Covid-19 virus. It’s called the Covid compliance officer (CCO), and thanks to them, you will be able to enjoy commercial films and television even before the time of herd immunity. We spoke to Erika DeSimone, a California-based event producer specializing in Covid-19 considerations, from her assignment on set in New Jersey.

What is a Covid Compliance Officer?

“We are technically called (C19CO)s, and we are a new position that was created during the pandemic as a way for any kind of shoot. Photo shoots, films, music videos, etc., all must be able to go on. The actual set and the behind-the-scenes set-ups such as the video villages and even craft services are where people normally work really close together. It’s an ever-changing position, and I am jumping on additional classes and taking workshops almost on a monthly basis because the federal and regional mandates keep evolving.

When did you start this job?

“In the ‘before times’ I was an event producer for large live events, but them on March 13th, 2020, every single client and project that I had lined up for the YEAR called and outright cancelled (including a film premiere I was set to do for a very well-known secret agent franchise).

I stayed paralyzed, glued to the news, eventually getting my affairs in order for my 3-year-old and I to be able to live for maybe a year or more with no income.

By September, one of my friends suggested I take the training because, really, what else was I doing besides worrying and watching the news? As each lesson went on, I thought this is what I do anyway. At work, I have my finger on every aspect of an event and at home, every move my 3-year-old makes, so this was not a stretch. I am on set now with a director of photography who says I am ‘pleasantly bossy.’

Can you describe a typical day as a covid compliance officer?

“So, every day is different. I can be on a one-day still photo shoot with a crew as small as ten or a large commercial shoot with a crew of 40 over a seven-day period. But here is what happens every day:

There is a good amount of pre-production on every job. A CCO is hired at the same time the other crew members are hired and I sit on every pre-production meeting because Covid compliance touches every aspect now, such as consideration for every location chosen, crew size, how to feed people, even how to set up the cameras.

I typically arrive on site before anyone else to set up the company area, to rapid test the crew, mark up the floors for social distancing, check food services has everything individually packed. As we slowly get back to work, some vendors have not "put it into practice yet," so there is a learning curve for us all once on-site—things as simple as there is no longer a “grab a soda from a cooler of ice” situation.

And then I walk around for the next 12 hours repeating the same three things because people get involved in a conversation or engulfed in their work and collaboration they forget:

  1. Please put your mask above your nose.
  2. Please step farther apart
  3. How did you sneak that water bottle in here?

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Erika DeSimone

Do you get in trouble if someone gets Covid-19?

“I don’t get in trouble, no, but in Los Angeles County if a set has an outbreak of more than three, we would have to tell the county. I have never had a positive Covid result in the workplace, but it doesn't reflect poorly on the CCO necessarily. I help productions keep strict protocols, but people go home at night and may make out with the pizza delivery man! So, there are things we can’t control.

Believe it or not, Tom Cruise's outburst in December at the crew has helped legitimize what I do. I keep a large cut out of his head at my check-in area to lighten people's mood because check-in takes a moment and they are itching to get inside. And to remind them that famous people like Tom Cruise think Covid compliance and protocols are cool.

Does working as a covid compliance officer make you more or less hopeful about ending the pandemic?

“So I went into this as a way to help get back to work safely. I also did this because I am single mother who needs to work. I guess this work has shown me that half of us wear masks, social distance and really want to get back to work...and the other half are annoyed at the process, take their masks off any chance they get and are mildly aggressive.

I wish my answer was different, but I feel less hopeful. I am stunned by people's recklessness and not caring about their community. So it's best I just do my job, keep my head down and do what I can on set.”

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